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Reopening after six months

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the state’s casinos can finally reopen beginning on Wednesday, September 9. The four casinos affected by the governor’s Thursday proclamation are privately owned, commercial casinos: Resorts World Catskills, del Lago, Rivers Casino, and Tioga Downs. Most Native American casinos have already reopened, as being on sovereign land, they do not have to follow state orders.

Naturally, as has been the case in other states, there will be restrictions in place when the casinos open back up next week. They will only be permitted to operate at 25% capacity in order to make social distancing easier, reducing the chances of groups crowding together. Face masks are required except when eating and drinking. And importantly, each casino must upgrade their ventilation and air filtration systems.

As far as gaming is concerned, table games are off limits until the casinos install barriers between each position at the table and those barriers are approved by the New York Gaming Commission. Electronic games like slots are allowed, but there must be six feet in between each station, so some games will end up being turned off.

“New Yorkers have done an extraordinary job,” said Governor Cuomo, adding, “This is good news and the right next step in our data-driven, phased reopening which is working.”

Casino operators scrambling to implement protocols

Though the casinos have had plenty of time to prepare for reopening, not all of them are sure when exactly they will welcome back customers. It appears that they were still waiting on specific directives from the state, so they did not want to implement things only to have to do something else later.

Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, told the Times Telegram that he didn’t know exactly when his casinos would reopen, though he says they are on track for next week.

“We’re trying to get information from the state as for what we have to do,” he said, adding that this properties’ air filtration systems are being upgraded.

Gural said that Vernon Downs will reopen in phases, so not all employees will be able to come back right away.

Similarly, Resorts World Catskills will not reopen all services and amenities immediately. Genting, the owner of Resorts World Catskills, said that it will open on Wednesday, as will Resorts World racetrack casino in Queens.

The other three commercial casinos have not indicated when they will reopen. Rivers general manager Justin Moore said that his team has been “working hand-in-hand with the state” to make sure everything is up to par or better.

Employees patience had worn thin

With casinos closed since mid-March, casino workers had grown increasingly impatient with the governor not announcing anything about reopening. Governor Cuomo said that it was incumbent upon him to balance the economic need for the casinos to open up with the concern for public health.

New York State Senator Joseph Griffo said: “We were concerned with the inconsistent [sic] from the governor’s office. Because neighboring states were opening casinos as well as the Native American casinos in our area, and they were doing it safely.”

Employees also pointed to the uncertainty of the situation and the mental stress that caused beyond the simply fact of being furloughed or unemployed.

“When you are putting us in a position where we just have no guidance, we have no idea whatsoever,” Greg Mallette said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be next week, if it’s going to be two weeks or if we are going to get to Oct. 1 and we’re all going to be laid off. That’s the worst part of it.”

Mallette, along with Valeria McIntyre and Robin Torr, organized an August rally for casino workers outside of the state Capitol Building in Albany. They called on the governor to let the 5,200 affected workers get back to their jobs.

Governor Cuomo, in the meantime, said that he was not letting casinos reopen because of the “density, the likelihood of compliance and the essential nature of the business.”

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